One of the main reasons you are looking for an FTP or SFTP client is probably to transfer files between a local client computer and a remote server.
FTP/SFTP clients can be handy tools for uploading files to a web server, downloading large files from a remote server, or even as a robust file sharing solution for enterprises.
But things have changed.
A few years back, cloud storage came as a disruptive technology, and changed everything around IT, including FTP clients.
Currently, most of the best FTP/SFTP clients still work as simple transfer solutions for LANs or WANs, but have also evolved to support data transfers to certain cloud storage services like S3, Azure, Dropbox, etc.
To evolve, most of these FTP/SFTP tools integrated other file transfer mechanisms, like SCP, HTTP, HTTPS, and WebDAV.
In this article, we’ll review the best FTP and SFTP clients for Windows.
We’ll also learn about how FTP clients work, their transferring mechanisms, and what to look for when choosing one.
Let's get started!
Best FTP & SFTP Clients for Windows
The following are considered the best FTP and SFTP clients for Windows.
All of them support at least FTP, FTPS, and SFTP; others extend its functionality with support for HTTP, WebDAV, and more.
SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY (Best Free Choice)
SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY is not the traditional free FTP client.
It is instead an advanced SSH client designed to connect to routers, switches, servers, and other networking devices with SSH.
And it happens to have advanced file transfer mechanisms.
Solar-PuTTY is a modernized and impressive upgrade to the traditional PuTTy, with added data transfer functionalities.
Aside from only supporting SSH (as PuTTY does), SolarPuTTY also supports SFTP, FTPS, SCP, and Telnet.
SolarWinds upgraded the traditional PuTTY interface and added more sophisticated features, like save/load sessions, power browsing capabilities, color categorization, tabbed and multi-session interface, drag-and-drop transfers, and more.
Other key features
- Portable version
- Powerful session management
- Windows search integration
- Scripts and automation
- Save credentials and keys
Price and Licence:
Freeware with a proprietary license.
FTP Voyager released its first FTP client around 1997.
Since that time, they have maintained a stable release of versions, and finally a couple of years back, it was acquired by SolarWinds.
The FTP Voyager client is now part of the Serv-u, which is an awarded secure FTP server and MFT file transfer software.
FTP Voyager is 100% free and only supported by Windows. It supports the most basic transfer methods including, FTP, FTPS, and SFTP.
The software allows you to connect to multiple servers simultaneously and download concurrent files with multi-thread file transfer capabilities, which is optimal for improving speed.
FTP Voyager is also optimized for automation, with scheduling, automatic file distribution, and folder synchronization.
Other key features:
- GUI with drag-and-drop and file searching capabilities.
- Multiple concurrent local/remote browsers.
- Automatic name conversion during transfers.
- Proxy server support.
Price and License
FTP Voyager is 100% free.
FTP Voyager here.
WinSCP is a popular free file transfer utility for Windows systems.
It was released back in 2000, and it is still getting daily updates and fixes (as for March 2020). WinSCP is 100% free and open source under the General Public License.
WinSCP supports a variety of protocols, including FTP, FTPS, SFTP, SCP, WebDAV, and S3.
The software comes with two interfaces; the CLI, which allows you to perform fast operations without using the mouse and the GUI, which is pretty similar to Windows interfaces.
The GUI also includes drag-and-drop functionality, shortcut icons, jump lists, and more.
Other key features:
- Batch file scripting and automation
- Basic file manager functionality
- Directory synchronization
- An integrated text editor
License and Price:
Free and open source.
FileZilla is another popular FTP client for multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac OSX, BSD, and Linux.
This software is usually on the top of many best FTP and SFTP client lists and for a good reason. It has been around since 2001, and as for today (March 2020), it is still with up-to-date versions and bug fixes.
FilZilla comes in three versions, the FileZilla free client (under GPL license), the FileZilla Pro client (commercial), and the FileZilla Server (Free).
The most popular FileZilla is the free and open-source version.
Thanks to their open community, it has a pretty stable release history.
Free FileZilla can support FTP, FTPS, and SFTP. The FileZilla Pro, takes it up a notch and offers support to WebDAV, S3, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Google Cloud Storage, and more.
Other key features:
- Easy-to-use interface with drag&drop and tabs
- Supports resume and transfer of large files (>4GB)
- Remote file editor
- HTTP/1.1, SOCKS5, and FTP-Proxy support
Price and License:
FileZilla Client and Server are 100% free, and FileZilla pro price is $19.99.
CyberDuck is another popular FTP client that has been alive since 2002.
It is 100% free and open-source under the GPL. CyberDuck runs on Windows and Mac OSX.
The software supports most of the popular file transfer mechanisms, such as FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV.
It also provides easy access to cloud storage services like S3, Azure, Google Drive, OpenStack, and more.
CyberDuck comes with an easy-to-use GUI that includes bookmarks, file transfers through drag-and-drop, and notifications.
The interface also allows easy one-click access to servers, file sharing, and cloud storage.
The software is also available through the CLI version called duck, which is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Other key features:
- Client-side encryption with Cryptomator
- Mount server and cloud storage with Mountain Duck
- A built-in text editor
- Advanced bookmarker
- Available in multiple languages
Price and License:
CyberDuck is free and open source.
CuteFTP is an excellent FTP client software developed back in 1996, and now owned and distributed by GlobalSCAPE.
CuteFTP, currently version 9, is a consolidation of the old versions of CuteFTP Lite, Home, and Pro.
CuteFTPv9 is a new and improved client with added security and features. It is supported by Windows and Mac OSX systems.
CuteFTP v9 supports various protocols including, FTPS, SFTP, HTTPS, and WebDAV.
Its friendly GUI includes a step-by-step wizard to add new sites instantly, drag-and-drop functionality, color-coded HTML editor, view thumbnails of remote images, and more.
This FTP client is probably the most comprehensive from this list, but it comes with a price.
Below is a brief list of the features and capabilities of CuteFTP v9:
- One-Time-Password authentication protocol, and Password Manager
- OpenPGP encryption
- Built-in remote files editor
- Up to 100 concurrent transfers
- Pause and resume support
- Segmented downloads
- Automatic file detection
- Fully-automated and scheduled transfers
- Backup or synchronization
Price and Licence:
The price for CuteFTPv9 is $59.99 (proprietary and commercial license).
Free trial of CuteFTP v9 for a limited time, here.
The WS_FTP (WinSock File Transfer Protocol) is a robust file transfer software package developed by Ipswitch.
WS_FTP consists of the FTP server and the FTP client.
Its first release was around 1996 by Ipswitch, and it is still a top-rated file transferring solution.
The WS_FTP Professional Client was initially designed for Windows.
It supports a large variety of file transfer mechanisms, including FTP, FTPS, SFTP, SCP, HTTP, and HTTPS.
The WS_FTP Client also comes with an easy-to-use and customizable GUI, which includes the must-have drag-and-drop functionality.
The GUI feels and looks like Windows.
You can also use the integrated search capabilities Google, Copernic, and Windows desktop search engines, within the user interface.
Other key features
- Connect to multiple servers simultaneously
- Schedule transfer and post-transfer actions
- File encryption with 256-bit AES and OpenPGP
- Schedule and compress backups
- Synchronize folders
- Support for a proxy server
Price and License:
WS_FTP Professional Client ($49.95 per license or $390 for five licenses)
The free trial of WS_FTP client for 30 Days.
FreeFTP (Coffee Cup)
Free FTP by Coffe Cup is a popular free FTP client for Windows systems.
It has a reputation for having a simple, friendly, and easy-to-use GUI.
The interface supports the drag-and-drop functionality and allows you to save and load sessions so that you can connect to any server with a single click.
Free FTP supports the basic file transfer mechanisms FTP, SFTP, FTPS, and HTTP.
It also comes with additional useful features such as automatic ZIP archival, bookmarking, historical file information, and file management.
CoffeeCup also offers the paid version, which is called Direct FTP. The commercial version comes with added features like:
- A built-in web editor
- Store commonly used commands
- Ability to set permissions
- The transfer activity window
- And more
Price and License:
FreeFTP ($0) and DirectFTP ($39.00).
Features to Look For!
When trying to finding the right FTP and SFTP client, start by looking at your data transfer requirements.
Maybe you need an FTP or SFTP client only for transferring a couple of small files once a month.
But on the other hand, you would probably need the client for scheduled automatic backups of large files.
Not all clients have the same capabilities.
Some clients don’t have scheduling capabilities, or can’t transfer files larger than 2GB.
Below are essential criteria that you need to consider when looking for an FTP or SFTP client for Windows.
1. Supported File Transfer Protocols
Regardless of your requirements, you may need something more than just FTP.
Plain FTP is not safe, so you need to consider all the file transfer methods and protocols supported by the client.
Some clients keep it simple with FTP/SFTP, while others ofter more robust support with other mechanisms like WebDAV, HTTP, and SCP.
2. Graphical User Interface (GUI) Usability
Traditional FTP utilities like the cURL, lftp, tnftp, were terrific, but they lacked a GUI. A GUI is a must-have in FTP clients, as they can improve interaction with the user.
An important feature found only in GUIs, is the drag-and-drop, which can help the user to streamline the transferring process.
Another essential element in the GUI is the tabbed interface, which allows a user to swap between multiple connected servers at the same time.
3. Cloud Storage Compatibility/Support
Having a single client perform all your data transfers within LAN, WAN, and even to remote cloud servers is a great advantage.
For now, data are commonly uploaded and downloaded to cloud servers using SSL endpoints with the HTTPS protocol.
Popular cloud server providers like AWS, also support the SFTP protocol to transfer data to their S3 storage.
4. Software License Type
Fortunately, most of the best FTP and SFTP Clients for Windows are 100% free.
Clients like WinSCP and Filezilla are free, and their license is open source.
Other tools like Solar-PuTTY and FTP Voyager, have a proprietary license but are 100% freeware.
But to get the most capabilities and features out of an FTP/SFTP client, you would have to go for a full commercial license product like WS_FTP Professional or Cute FTPv9.
5. Ensure Stable Build (not Beta)
FTP clients such as lftp have been discontinued since 1996, which is not good! Instead, go for software with stable release dates.
A software that is updated frequently will be more secure, fast, and would probably have innovative features.
As en example, you can refer to FileZilla release version history.
6. Large File Transfers Resume/Pause
According to the ubuntuforums.org: 2007, the 2GB data transfer limit is a known bug in many FTP clients.
Make sure that the client can transfer large files, especially over 2GB. Another feature useful here is the pause/resume.
File Transfer Protocols
The primary purpose of an FTP and SFTP client is to copy files from a local computer to a remote server, and vice-versa, using one of the following different protocols.
|Protocol||Security||Speed Comparison.||Ports||Connection types|
|FTP||No.||Faster than other methods.||TCP 20 and 21||Active and Passive|
|FTPS||SSL/TLS.||Slower than FTP.||990 and 21.||Implicit and Explicit|
|SFTP||SSH Keys and client auth.||Slower than FTP and FTPS||22||SSH|
|SCP||SSH Keys and client auth.||Faster than SFTP||22||SSH|
NOTE: The two most important characteristics of a transfer mechanism are its Security and Speed.
Although speed can be influenced by the encryption overhead of each data transfer mechanism, there are other factors in the network or computer that affect FTP speed.
Although you couldn’t influence the way a protocol behaves when it comes to speed, there are ways to optimize the FTP client for maximum speed.
Such as performing segmented downloads, limiting concurrent downloads, incrementing FTP speed in the client, and more.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the oldest computer file transferring method that is still used today but slowly dying.
FTP is pretty fast because it does not have any encryption overhead. All the data that you send over a network is sent in cleartext.
When establishing a connection, FTP can use two different modes, Active and Passive FTP.
And when transferring data, it may use two modes Binary or ASCII. The Binary method is recommended for transferring (non-text) files like images, while the ASCII mode is recommended for text files.
FTP is excellent for small and isolated LAN or WAN networks, where you need speed, but you are not concerned with security.
If you are concerned about security, FTP can be secured with SSL/TLS (FTPS).
FTP over SSL/TLS (FTPS)
FTPS, also known as FTP Secure, is the basic FTP with added support for SSL/TLS encryption (Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security). Thanks to its improved security, FTPS is usually preferred over simple FTP.
FTPS uses two types of connection modes to add security to the client; these are implicit and explicit.
With the implicit FTPS mode, the entire FTP session is encrypted with SSL, including the control and data channels. Implicit FTPS is a deprecated standard. Explicit FTPS (FTPSES) is more flexible.
It allows a client to “explicitly request” security from an FTPS server.
Do not confuse FTPS with SFTP (SSH File Transfer) or FTP over SSH.
SSH Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is a secure file transfer mechanism for the Secure Shell (SSH) Protocol. Although SFTP is also another file transfer protocol, it is not related to FTP and FTPS, and it works very differently.
The main difference is that SFTP is based on SSH.
Another critical distinction is that SFTP only uses port 22 to establish a connection, which is the port used by SSH.
In contrast to FTPS, which relies on signed certificates for authentication, SFTP clients are authenticated and encrypted through SSH, which uses public-key cryptography and passwords to authenticate a remote server.
Additionally, the SFTP protocol allows more operations than the standard FTP; for example, it allows pause/resume transfers, list directories, and even remove remote files.
Most clients that support SFTP also support the SCP protocol.
Just like SFTP, the Secure Copy Protocol (SCP) also uses the SSH protocol for data transfers and authentication.
The main difference is that SCP is only used for data transfers and not remote files management, as SFTP does.
The OpenSSH recently suggested that SCP is an outdated protocol and recommended SFTP or Rsync over for file transfers.
Other Popular File Transfer Mechanisms:
Some clients also support file transfers through the HTTPS using port 443. HTTPS does not require a client, as long as you are using a web browser.
Some FTP clients also support Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDav). This protocol is an extension of HTTP that allows clients to perform remote management of files. You can create, edit, copy, move, or delete data from the web browser.
- FXP (Site2Site Transfer):
This method uses FTP to transfer files from remote server to remote server. It does not involve a data transfer to the client.
- AWS S3:
This is not a file transfer mechanism. AWS S3 is the Amazon Simple Storage Service that provides object storage on the cloud through a web service interface (HTTP). Some renowned file transfer clients like WinSCP, now support transfers from client to S3. Data can be transferred to S3, using HTTPS or SFTP.
RSync is an alternative to SFTP. It is a utility used for synchronizing folders and files between client and server. Like SFTP, Rsync also uses the SSH protocol to establish a connection. The difference is that it uses its own Rsync daemon to transfer data.
Your requirements define the type of client that you would need. Also, look for the product that fulfills the following essential FTP client criteria.
Look for clients that…
- Support at least FTPS, SFTP, and SCP:
Other data transferring methods are also relevant, for example, HTTP or WebDAV can be used to access most cloud storage services. Having easy access to data transfers to cloud storage services such as AWS S3 or Azure within the same favorite FTP client is a great advantage.
- Come with a GUI to streamline the Transfer Process:
Look for features like drag-and-drop, tabs, notifications, etc. GUIs that are usually easier to learn than CLIs.
- Stable Release History and Updated/Patched Regularly:
If a product has not released any updates or bug fixes for more than a year ago, it is time to start looking somewhere else.
- Bonus Features
We suggest you find a Client that has Pause/Resume Transfers, ability to limit concurrent downloads, large file transfers, scheduling, and automation tasks.
Going for a free or commercial FTP client depends on your file transfer requirements.
Some products like FileZilla, WinSCP, Solar-PuTTY, and CyberDuck are fantastic and 100% free.
These products come with most innovative features, support many protocols, have a stable release history, and the best of all, they are 100% free!
Other products like WS_FTP Professional or Cute FTPv9 provide more features and support but come with a price.